William F. Buckley Explains How He Flogged Himself to Get Through Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged

Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged sold an esti­mat­ed 25 mil­lion copies between its pub­li­ca­tion in 1957 and 2007. Ear­ly on, the book inspired a young gen­er­a­tion of busi­ness lead­ers, and now, decades lat­er, it holds appeal for a new class of con­ser­v­a­tives. But it was­n’t always that way. Back in the 1950s, William F. Buck­ley, the enfant ter­ri­ble of the con­ser­v­a­tive move­ment, launched the Nation­al Review and pub­lished a review by Whit­tak­er Cham­bers — the Sovi­et spy who famous­ly turned against Com­mu­nism (and Alger Hiss), all while build­ing a remark­able career at TIME Mag­a­zine. About Atlas Shrugged, Cham­bers wrote: ”I find it a remark­ably sil­ly book. It is cer­tain­ly a bump­tious one. Its sto­ry is pre­pos­ter­ous.” And, what’s more, he adds: “Out of a life­time of read­ing, I can recall no oth­er book in which a tone of over­rid­ing arro­gance was so implaca­bly sus­tained. Its shrill­ness is with­out reprieve. Its dog­ma­tism is with­out appeal.”

Rand nev­er for­gave Buck­ley for the review. Per­sona non gra­ta, he was. Years lat­er, in 2003, Buck­ley revis­it­ed the whole affair with Char­lie Rose and made known his per­son­al feel­ings for Rand’s book. “I had to flog myself to read it…”

Note: You can down­load Atlas Shrugged as a free audio­book if you sign up for a free 30-Day Tri­al with Audible.com. Find more infor­ma­tion on that pro­gram here.

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Relat­ed Con­tent:

Mike Wal­lace Inter­views Ayn Rand (1959)

William F. Buck­ley v. Gore Vidal (1968)

Ayn Rand Talks Athe­ism with Phil Don­ahue

Wealthy Donors Pay­ing Uni­ver­si­ties to Teach Rand

via Roger Ebert

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Comments (21)
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  • Sinjin Smythe says:

    I have a great appre­ci­a­tion for both Ayn Rand and Bill Buck­ley. I don’t dis­count one because the oth­er did­n’t mar­vel over the oth­er’s every accom­plish­ment.

    I under­stand that Buck­ley did­n’t like the deliv­ery of Rand’s ideas in the nov­el form. As a lit­er­ary crit­ic it must have seemed too big to stuff in a nov­el.

    Ms Rand’s nov­el is hard­ly the first to chal­lenge a per­son­’s patience. That said it remains what it is and both Mr. Cham­bers and Mr. Buck­ley’s crit­i­cism fell short of the truth that Atlas Shrugged has been inde­pen­dent­ly val­i­dat­ed more than 25 mil­lion times.

    I read Charles Dar­win’s “On the Ori­gin of Species” and felt at times as though I had to flog myself to read it. I’m not about to say it was­n’t a mas­ter­piece of mod­ern sci­en­tif­ic thought.

    Add too Salman Rushdie’s “The Satan­ic Vers­es”, or Home­r’s “The Ili­ad” I was flog­ging myself on these too. Still good stuff.

  • I like Mr. Buck­ley and enjoyed watch­ing him speak about top­ics of inter­est. I along with the 25 mil­lion oth­ers enjoyed Ayn Rand and her book. Because He did not enjoy her book, does not make me want to choose between them.

    • Ganeshaa23 says:

      25 mil­lion may have pur­chased the book but that does not mean that 25 mil­lion enjoyed the book. Buck­ley and I are at least two who did­n’t.

    • Sinjin Smythe says:

      Exact­ly! Final­ly a fair mind­ed per­son.

  • I like Mr. Buck­ley and enjoyed watch­ing him speak about top­ics of inter­est. I along with the 25 mil­lion oth­ers enjoyed Ayn Rand and her book. Because He did not enjoy her book, does not make me want to choose between them.

  • The Dude says:

    It is always reas­sur­ing to know there are oth­ers who have a gen­uine dis­like of Ayn Rand’s phi­los­o­phy: http://oppugno.com/blog/2011/05/11/ayn-rand-is-a-cunt-and-i-never-use-the-c-word/

    • Sinjin Smythe says:

      Not so reas­sur­ing though is the num­ber of those that dis­like her phi­los­o­phy for not real­ly know­ing or under­stand­ing it.

      You know the peo­ple who don’t like her for what she looked like, or how she spoke, or how they per­ceive her pol­i­tics.

      She was ahead of her time and strong con­tin­ued sales of her works gen­er­a­tions after her writ­ing tes­ti­fy to that. This is often the case with genius.

    • Michael says:

      There’s a great deal of hatred out there for Rand. Gen­er­al­ly based on igno­rance. Here’s some­thing that would sur­prise some of the haters from her own lips: http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/charity.htmlhttp://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/charity.html

  • 3988john39872wq says:

    You know, I strong­ly dis­agree with her notion (and it is that, a notion not a thought out idea) that busi­ness prac­tices are all that is need­ed for gov­ern­ment and ethics, and his­tor­i­cal­ly, I’m right. Busi­ness has nev­er been every­thing.

    On the oth­er hand she was utter­ly right about the psy­chol­o­gy of inter­per­son­al rela­tion­ships and how mon­ey is made, and how it is not.

    She’s a bit extreme but was on the right track in some ways in some direc­tions that most oth­ers had­n’t the abil­i­ty to go.

    • David M. Brown says:

      Where does Rand argue that “busi­ness prac­tices are all that is need­ed for gov­ern­ment and ethics”?

  • InfoVulture says:

    All Watched Over By Machines Of Lov­ing Grace — Nailed it for me. Google/Youtube it.

  • MDM says:

    Actu­al­ly it is the love of Ayn Rand’s work that is based on igno­rance, and con­tempt for her that’s based on wis­dom. There is noth­ing new about Rand’s so-called phi­los­o­phy. It is only the lat­est iter­a­tion of the most failed phi­los­o­phy in his­to­ry. Rand’s creed is sim­ply a rehash of the same drea­ry failed ideas espoused by the Niet­zschean uber­men­sch cult, Social Dar­win­ism, George Fitzhugh and Joseph De Maistre, to name a few. These cults come in reli­gious and sec­u­lar vari­eties — Rand was an athe­ist — but the ele­ments are oth­er­wise the same: the believ­er sees him­self as part of a tiny elite ordained by God or nature to rule over the rest of human­i­ty, to monop­o­lize wealth and pow­er, and to abuse, exploit, deceive and even slaugh­ter their despised “lessers.” Dehu­man­iz­ing oth­ers this way is crude­ly plea­sur­able and con­fers a delu­sion of supe­ri­or­i­ty. But it also shuts down rea­son. It is like­ly relat­ed to the dement­ed state of hys­te­ria peo­ple go into when they com­mit geno­cide. Nam­ing her creed “objec­tivism” was the height of delu­sion­al arro­gance, because it is actu­al­ly sub­jec­tivism at its patho­log­i­cal extreme. Psy­chol­o­gists who have actu­al­ly stud­ied busi­ness lead­er­ship will tell you Ran­di­ans make ter­ri­ble lead­ers. The fail­ure to acknowl­edge oth­ers’ tal­ents, con­tri­bu­tions and rights is both delu­sion­al and inex­cus­able. Rand was a pathet­ic psy­chopath. She demo­nized kind­ness, com­pas­sion and coop­er­a­tion because she had no capac­i­ty to under­stand them, and so they absolutel­ly ter­ri­fied her, made her feel help­less. She had to tell a sto­ry that remade the world accord­ing to her own crip­pled terms. But her world­view is a lie, and the peo­ple who live by it live cramped, pathet­ic lives, so demeaned they have to reduce oth­ers to objects to feel good about them­selves.

    • David M. Brown says:

      Your sys­tem­at­ic dis­tor­tion of Rand and her ideas sure sounds like reduc­ing “oth­ers to objects to feel good about them­selves” to me.

  • PJ says:

    “The Foun­tain­head” was a mas­ter­piece about ideas merged into an engag­ing sto­ry that exalt­ed Howard Roark as bril­liant hero. Rand should have seen it as her sem­i­nal achieve­ment. “Atlas Shrugged” was an over-the-top one-dimen­sion­al fan­ta­sy that had a dement­ed look at man’s quest for hap­pi­ness in an evil world. When read­ing it I could not help but sense a back­ground cadence of fas­cism bely­ing human rea­son and log­ic.

  • John K. Campbell says:

    What is in my best inter­est is moral. She makes me cringe.

  • john says:

    a pro­fes­sor of mine once called Ayn Rand “super­mar­ket niet­zsche”

  • Victoria says:

    This just slays me: “Rand nev­er for­gave Buck­ley for the review. Per­sona non gra­ta, he was.” The reversed Yoda-syn­tax is just a bonus! Just kills! And the woman was a clown, with strong pro­cliv­i­ties for vul­ner­a­ble young men. And a phi­los­o­phy that appeals to OCD/ Asperg­ers with blink­ers and polit­i­cal hard-ons. Just sayin’, with hind­sight.

    • David M. Brown says:

      Which part of the phi­los­o­phy has that appeal? The accep­tance of rea­son as opposed to faith or skep­ti­cism? The ethics of ratio­nal self-inter­est? The defense of a soci­ety in which men are free–in all aspects of their lives–so long as they respect the rights of oth­ers?

  • warren miller says:

    i would imag­ine it fair­ly chal­leng­ing to write while blind, how­ev­er some of the review­ers above seem to have over­come the chal­lenge. even as late as 2013, some still do not under­stand “Atlas”, even after most if not all of its “prophe­cies” have come about. the EPA should stand out as one of Rand’s best pre­dic­tions. thanks David Brown for your opin­ions, right on!!

  • Dre says:

    Rand had a very straight-for­ward and eas­i­ly explain­able phi­los­o­phy which she tried to demon­strate through bloat­ed and unread­able books. That’s hard­ly the work of a genius.

  • Dre says:

    Lmfao, only a Ran­di­an cultist could have a hate-on for the EPA. Go to Chi­na or any oth­er city with no regard for the envi­ron­ment and tell me how nice it is.

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